The Ballad of Lily Magnolia
after Hua Mulan
My ancestors are buried in our backyard and my mother says it is comforting to have them all in one place, but it is more of a burden to me. I am a girl with bones made for war, but my mother dreams only of a horizon-future. She, too, has nails of steel and a skeleton wrought of iron. For us honor is quiet. Is obey. Is thank you. Women eat their own tongues every day. We are left with full stomachs, empty mouths. Smoke rises from China’s mountains, black like oil and dragon and want. It is a warning, clanging steel and red snow on the ground. My grandmother told me, Flower, this world will kill you unless you are ruthless. She said, your ancestors are woven in your clothes. She said, you are never alone, even when you are someone else. I do not look too hard at my father and he does not look too hard at me. His old armor fits. This is his approval. Lily magnolia, the earth screams. Flower. Their graves say keep close to us. This is your world now.
Nancy Huang grew up in America and China. She was a finalist in the James F. Parker Award for poetry, a 2015 YoungArts finalist in fiction, and a winner of the Michigan Young Playwrights Festival. Her writing has been recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, Optimist International, and the Library of Congress. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Bodega, This Bridge Called Language, Barrio Writers Anthology, Winter Tangerine Review, and others. She lives in Austin.